Monday, October 15, 2007

'Sleazy Six' targeted for retirement in 2008

CAMPO has spoken - finally. And now ...

Construction unlikely until 2009 on any of five tollways, giving toll opponents two years to try for another reversal.

October 15, 2007

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Now what?

Now that the last booming insult of Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board members has died on the wind and the last vote has been tallied and the five-tollway plan has been approved — again — what will happen? And when?

First of all, don't expect to see bulldozers at work next week on any of the roads, although some suspicious Oak Hillians reported that highway girders showed up along U.S. 290 West the day after CAMPO's vote last Monday in favor of the toll roads.

Turns out they were concrete traffic barriers no longer needed on a Texas 71 project in Bee Cave. Yes, they might eventually be part of the toll road project at the "Y," but "eventually" is likely to be 2009.

That's the magic date, it turns out, for four of the five roads: U.S. 290 East in Northeast Austin, U.S. 183 in East Austin, the U.S. 290/Texas 71 project in Oak Hill and the one brand-new road, Texas 45 Southwest near Circle C Ranch.

The other proposed tollway, a short stretch of Texas 71 East near the airport, probably won't get under way until a couple of years after that, Texas Department of Transportation Austin district engineer Bob Daigh said later in the week. However, he said there could be some minor work on the existing bridges at the U.S. 183/Texas 71 interchange sooner than 2011.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, as it did with the 183-A tollway, will build and then operate the U.S. 290 East tollway. The state Transportation Department will build the other four and then turn them over to the mobility authority to operate.

The construction delay, if you can call it that, arises from federally required environmental studies on all five roads, none of which have been completed and approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Design work is not finished on any of the roads. There's right of way to buy, contractors to hire, traffic and revenue studies to do and, in some cases, bonds to be sold to get the almost $550 million that will be combined with $910 million to build the projects.

When construction does start, each of these projects would take about two years to complete. So, look for openings in 2011.

Unless Sal Costello has his way.

The Circle C anti-toll activist has targeted for retirement six CAMPO "yes" voters whose terms in local elected office end in 2008, dubbing them the Sleazy Six.

The plan may be approved, but the issue — and Costello — aren't going away.

While you're listening, you should know that Getting There has acquired an electronic little brother called ShortCuts. My blog on starts today. As the name implies, I'll be giving you quick takes on transportation news.

And ShortCuts, should be a place to engage in something of a public and vigorous dialogue with you folks out there. Vigorous but civil, please. See you there.

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